Next month you will be fourteen years old. We realized the other day that the next time there is a federal election, you will likely be eligible to vote. It's amazing to realize that every day does accumulate and that so soon, you will be a grown man.
You laughed at me during this election, as I flipped and flopped. (They say the ability to see both sides can be a sign of intelligence, you know.) But, I also wanted the process to be transparent for you and your brother and sister - I wanted you to see that engaging in political process is challenging in so many ways. I'm conscious that it's not possible to raise kids in a neutral way: at this point, you will tend to believe what we, your parents, believe. But, on the other hand, you've been a reality check to us: do we believe what we believe - about God, the world and its power structures - do we believe enough that we are willing to indoctrinate you?
When you were four years old, on your very first day of kindergarten - September 11, 2001 - the world as we knew it blew up. You know what we did that day: we went to Herrles' Country Farm Market and ran in the corn maze, we bought corn and apples and we laughed. You know - although you won't really know until you are a parent yourself - that day was one of my bravest and proudest days as a parent. Because what I did that day was to utterly refuse to give in to fear. I refused to allow terrorists to dictate my life - and, even more importantly, yours. I did not take you out of school and clutch you to me. I looked at the empty skies and breathed deeply to hold the tears at bay. Every single night, the instant you and your brother and baby sister were asleep, your dad and I turned the television on, desperate to devour details that would help us understand. But what we understood, instinctively, from the very first day was that we would choose to live our lives even though we walked through the valley of the shadow.
A different shadow has been cast over our country in the last few years - a shadow of government corruption. You know I've been angry about it. You know I want it to be stopped. And you know the root of my flip-flopping: do I vote against what I despise or for what I want? I laughed with you on Sunday afternoon when we pictured me, lining up over and over at the polling booth, getting to the front of the line and being unable to commit so going to the back of the line again. It was a possible scenario because the dilemma ran that deep.
I wrote about our September 11 experience and it was published. Some people found my response frivolous, apolitical and untheological. But someone else wrote back that it was indeed a political response and a theological one - and a very valid response to the situation.
I made up my mind about how I would respond to this election late Sunday night. When I woke yesterday, my mind was unchanged. I tried to put myself ahead 12 hours, to imagine how I would feel in the worst case scenario if I voted according to my conscience, rather than strategically. I walked into the cardboard booth and my eyes welled up with tears. I tried to understand why. A day later, I have an idea.
Because my worst case scenario did happen - a sweeping majority. And yet, last night, I had a very peaceful sense that continues this morning. I think my tears and my peace come from the same place. It is a place of peace with myself. Because I voted with hope. I voted for a vision I believe in even if it is hard to see on today's political landscape. There is a line I recall from one of The Lord of the Rings movies. It happens as the Men of the West are mustering anxious troops and the leaders are conferring quietly. "We cannot win," one says. "No," says another, with a gleam in his eye. "But we can fight."
Fear paralyzes me too often in life, honestly it does. I fear heights, I fear snakes, I fear some illness. I feel badly, Matt, for what I say to you and your brother and sister in my fears. I'm glad none of you share those fears. My deep deep desire today is that you and they will see my "naive", non-strategic decision yesterday as a choice to fight with hope and love.
One of the elements that reminded me that it was okay to vote according to my conscience was my faith - a faith that reminded me that God is God and I am not, that even when the dust of the election cleared, God would still be God. My job was to be faithful to a vision I could believe in.
I had tears again last night, as I read aloud the climax of the book I've been reading to you guys - Museum of Thieves. Great danger has come to the city that protects its children, the city where even the adults are unprepared for trouble. "There had been nothing to test his courage, nothing to teach him when to stand and when to run. Now he was paralyzed with fear...they were afraid to stay where they were, and they were afraid to go." Flip-flopping again. The hero of the book must convince the city to flee the danger, but its inhabitants are paralyzed. But here is where the tears came: "Each time, it was the children who slipped out into the raging darkness first."
Jesus said, "Unless you become like a little child, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven." Yesterday your brother's class held a mock election. The NDP won with a Green opposition. My vote yesterday was, I hope, not a childish one, but a childlike one. Like the kids in your brother's class, I dared to believe that I could vote for the party with a vision I could believe in, and a leader I could admire wholeheartedly.
And yet, here we are today. Are we defeated? Not hardly. Because as much as I believe deeply in the democratic process, I also believe that we have more opportunities than simply at election time. We can hold our Member of Parliament accountable, speaking truth to power. We can also make choices in our community each and every day that reflect the values we want to see, the values we wished we could see in our representatives.
Matt, you head into an unknown future. So many people would tell you to be careful -- and they are not wrong, any more than the people who chose to vote strategically were wrong last night. They are not wrong. But, I want you to choose life in every way, to embrace it with hope and passion, to stand up for what is true and beautiful, to laugh and to cry, to fall down and to get up and try again. Don't fall prey to cynicism - stay engaged and alive. And be exactly who you are.